Agrarian Social Movements and Struggles in Southeast Asia Past and Present
Time & LocationSession 1
Wed 09:00–10:30 Room 1.308
- Matthew Woolgar University of Oxford
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- Agrarian Capitalism, Genocide, and the Communist Party of Kampuchea James Tyner Kent State University
Between 1975 and 1979, the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) sought to establish a new society governed by a Marxist-Leninist inspired vision of collective ownership. In the process, upwards of two million people perished, through disease, famine, torture, murder, and execution. To date, minimal scholarship has documented the centrality of agrarian transformations as formative of the genocide. Even less work has considered the CPK as constituting a collective, social movement. In this presentation, I argue that the basis of the Cambodian genocide is the problematic of agrarian-based, capital accumulation. More broadly, I position the policies and practices of the CPK within the longer history of agrarian social movements. My central thesis is that upon assuming power, the CPK sought to transform traditional farming practices to a socialist mode of production. However, in so doing the CPK more fully subsumed Khmer society to the dictates of capitalism. Indeed, if we consider seriously the attempted socialist revolution in Cambodia, we see that actually existing socialist agriculture looks a lot like state capitalism.
- Peasant Protests in Global Production Networks in Southeast Asia Sokphea Young University College London
As a contribution to a very limited literature on transnational protests in global production networks (GPNs), this paper examines how peasants—assisted by civil society organisations (CSOs)—orchestrate transnational movements targeting governments and transnational corporations in Southeast Asia. Drawing on cases from Cambodia's controversial agro-industries, this paper argues that, although transnational protests of peasants play a very significant role in GPNs, such as in influencing corporate behaviour, their participation in transnational protests undermines their identities, ideologies and autonomy as the latter are often driven by international CSOs. While their transnational protests are seen as a double-edged sword, they should not be neglected by scholars given their power, through collective actions, within the contested spaces of the GPNs’ framework. To better understand GPNs in the era of globalisation, the extant debate pertaining to power relations among actors in these GPNs should incorporate CSOs’ power.
- Rice Without Land, Man Without Rights Sirithorn Siriwan Cornell University
Across the land and rice fields, PM 2.5 smog has been lingering over the landscape of Northern Thai agrarian regions for years. With the wake-up call from citizens in Bangkok and provinces in the central Thailand concerning this “newly emerged” life-threatening situation, the air pollution resulted from burning rice fields for swidden agriculture and burning the highlands for forest products. The domination of this discussion by the contemporary middle class has seen the exclusion of “people from the field” in rural areas from this discourse. Firstly, this paper focuses on the flow and fights for agrarian agency in Thailand after the Thai students’ movement for democracy during the 1970s in which the Farmers’ Federation of Thailand was established under the concept of moral economy. This united the farmers and the middle-class, walking hand in hand along the road fighting for democracy and agricultural subsistence.
However, in the 2010s in which Thai agrarian agents have progressively become entangled with political instability and unreconcilable divisions of economic classes in contemporary Thailand, the “people from the field” and “people from the city” are no longer joining their hands for the political movement. The second part of this paper’s argument examines the notion of “rational economy” when rice farmers have achieved political mobility, as they have become active political actors during this time of economic conundrum. Adding fuel to the fire with air pollution in 2019, the gap between classes has led to the deterioration of the dynamism of Thailand’s political landscape. From land rights (to feed farmers’ lives) to man’s rights (to breathe clean air), agrarian and urban spheres are continuously on the move.
- Society, State and Party in the “Unilateral Action” Land Reform Campaign in West Java Matthew Woolgar University of Oxford
During 1963–65 Indonesia witnessed a controversial and sometimes violent communist-backed land reform campaign under the banner of ‘Unilateral Action’. Scholars have differed in their interpretations of what drove the land reform campaign, especially the relative importance of Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) directives and social conflict at the grass roots. Existing accounts have also been geographically limited, overwhelmingly focusing on East Java, Central Java and Bali. This paper re-evaluates the dynamics of the land reform campaign by examining the often-overlooked case of West Java. This case study demonstrates the importance of decisions made by the PKI’s national leadership, but also indicates the limits on the PKI’s control of events. It also highlights the significance of underlying socio-economic conflicts and the salience of varied patterns of state formation. More broadly, the paper points to the value of sub-national comparisons and a longer temporal perspective for furthering our understanding of the dynamics of agrarian struggles in Indonesia and Southeast Asia more broadly.
Across Southeast Asia, agrarian conflicts have long been major concerns of a variety of social movements, taken here to mean sustained forms of collective, contentious social action in primarily agricultural settings. In scholarship on agrarian conflict there is also a strong tradition of exploring agency ‘from below’, whether examining ‘weapons of the weak’, or more organised and overt collective action. In recent years this has included studies investigating responses to ‘global land grabbing’ or the ‘resource rush’. This panel takes as its starting point that there are gains to be had by encouraging dialogue between researchers studying historical and contemporary social movements in agrarian contexts. In doing so it takes an interdisciplinary approach, exploring cases from across a range of times and countries in Southeast Asia. The panel welcomes papers addressing questions including: under what conditions do people act collectively over agrarian issues? How do changing rural social and economic contexts relate to the development of social movements? How do ethnic, religious, gender and generational differences impact such movements? How are different movements organised, and what are the implications of varied patterns of organisation? How do we understand the role of symbols and ideas in this collective action? How do state actors interact with, and condition the opportunities for, these social movements? How can we explain the successes and failures of such movements?